April 18, 2015

a supper invitation

I started a new job recently, as food services manager. I take care of menu planning, food purchasing and meal preparation. That is, for me and my husband, and sometimes for guests. As a single, I cooked, but more sporadically, or in bulk (I was the college kid eating homemade chicken and rice casserole four days in a row). Before I was married, if I preferred to spend the evening writing rather than cooking, I could do that. But my work is now to please my husband, and regular meals please him more than regular blog posts. (Imagine that!) So, I cook regularly.

I've enjoyed the past few months of finding recipe blogs, testing menus on my husband or friends, and when we find something we like, trying to repeat the performance again a few weeks later. I still wouldn't list cooking as my favourite activity (may God bless all of you who do...actually, I love supper invitations...) but I do enjoy in preparing colourful, healthy meals, and I think it is important to find joy in things we must do every day.

As the focus of my life has shifted, I'm understanding a bit better why my wife and mom friends talk about food and recipes so often. It's the stuff of their lives, especially if they're feeding big families. I still don't aim to be a woman who talks about kitchen-related topics every time she sees her friends, but they're entering my vocabulary more. As are food trend words. I'm finding more recipes that call for "free-range eggs" instead of any old eggs, or "organic rice flour" instead of run-of-the-mill flour. Salt is sea and pepper is fresh-cracked. I'm running into the various eating trends more often, and since we live in a place where organic produce is readily available, I'm finding myself lingering undecidedly between the regular mushrooms and the (two or three times as expensive) organic mushrooms at the store. Being a menu planner means making lots of little decisions which cumulatively have a big impact.

As we lay the foundations of food in our home,  I'm thinking about what healthy and balanced eating looks like, and running ideas past my husband. But more than subscribing to a certain plan or diet, my main concern as food manager in our home, is that my theology of food and eating be properly oriented. Food is a common distraction, and a common idol of the human heart. We eat too much or too little, care about our health too much or too little. Our relationship to our food is often an indicator of our relationship to God and His Word.  

When I graduated from high school twelve years ago, virtually the only "food preferences" I knew of were related to health problems (such as allergies, diabetes) and vegetarianism. I recall working as a camp counsellor and bringing the EpiPen to the supper table in case my camper came into contact with sesame seeds, or perhaps having to encourage a picky child to eat what was put in front of her. But that world of eating seemed kind of simple, now that I look back on it. I can only imagine children coming to camp now with a list of food preferences longer than their arm, and having a cabin full of kids with wildly different diets and trying to please them all. Or, perhaps kids don't go to camp anymore, for fear that they may eat (and perhaps enjoy?) hot dogs, marshmallows, pop or white bread.

It seems North Americans are losing their balance in the area of food. I can see how easily this happens, due to genuine health concerns (I rarely touch hot dogs, marshmallows, or pop, either), but in all things we need balance. I haven't heard much about food trends or extreme diets in Europe yet, which makes me think it that the trends that come to mind are more of a North American phenomenon. (That, and having more credit cards than you have children and pets. North America isn't famous for its moderation.)

A good friend read my mind in February and posted some of her concerns about believers choosing their diets in more and more extreme ways. She referenced 1 Timothy 4:1-6 and then listed the three points below.
"The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Chr!st J'esus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed." (1 Timothy 4:1-6)
My friend wrote,
  1. "If food is pulling me away from fellowship with other believers because what's served at the potluck won't be _______ ...
  2. "If I'm teaching our children to be disrespectful or ungrateful because our family doesn't eat _______....
  3. "If I am consumed by fear over what will happen if we ingest ________....
"...then maybe I need to reconsider my heart's worship. Be thankful. And even be willing to 'point these things out to the brothers and sisters, [so that I] will be a good minister of Chr!st Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed'. [I Timothy 4:6]"
Believers often follow eating trends believing that they stem from a godly desire to steward their bodies well. But when food is more important than fellowship or gratefulness, or when it fills one with earthly fears, is not godly. Even if the food does great things for one's gut, weight, skin or overall health.

I saw how easily food fear could be more important to me than the fear of God when I lived in Asia. The local newspaper proclaimed that the chicken sold in our city was so full of antibiotics, that people who commonly eat chicken could become immune to antibiotics a doctor might later prescribe to them. I heard that the chiles and mangoes were rejected for export to developed nations due to the chemicals being used on them, and the watermelons were being injected with sweeteners by the producers. The very choices I thought were good for me (avoiding the yummy fried snacks aisle, heading for the vegetable department) were not much good for me, either. Sometimes my heart grumbled at this, but I had to decide: would matters of food keep me from fellowship, gratefulness, and trust in God? 

When we adhere to very particular diets (for non-medical reasons), it limits our ability to cross cultural divides and take spiritual food to the spiritually hungriest places. The very places in the world that are darkest and neediest are often the places where there will be no organic produce and no health food stores selling our favourite supplements. Even in Western contexts, food preferences or concerns may stop us from showing hospitality to and receiving hospitality from neighbours of differing cultures and faith. Will our menu stop us from m!ssions?

Acts 10 tells the account of how Peter was headed out to obey his Master's "go make disciples" command, and still following his Old Testament eating practices. He had a vision, where God showed him "all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air" and told him to rise, kill and eat. Peter refused, "Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean!" and God told him, "What God has cleansed you must not call common." In the Old Testament, God was calling His Israelite people out of pagan nations, and had them live according to particular food laws. But it is significant that just as the good news was breaking the Jewish barriers and heading out in to the Gentile world like never before, God dropped the food restrictions. The chruch had a new freedom to eat all things, and this would greatly enhance their ability to go make disciples.

To allow our food preferences to slow us from going out with spiritual food is not Sciptural. Furthermore, the forbidding of certain foods a sign of false religion (see I Timothy 4 again). While most of the world is captive to food laws, to their false (or in the case of the Jews, incomplete) religions, we are free.
  • Jews follow the distinct "kosher" diet laid out in the Torah.
  • Muslims' meat must be slaughtered in a particular way, and pork is not allowed.
  • Many Hindus are lactovegetarians (no meat or eggs), and a few avoid all varieties of garlic and onions.
  • Jains are not only lactovegetarians, but they often don't eat root vegetables (including carrots, potatoes), garlic or onions either. During fasting periods other foods are also restricted. 
  • Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons represent a few of the sects within the broad title of Christianity that have self-imposed dietary restrictions.
...and I'm sure the list goes on. That's them, but we are free to be "all things to all men"! We are free to eat pork with our German friends, or abstain from it with our Iranian friends. We are free to serve garlic toast to our American friends and then abstain from garlic to accommodate our Jain friends. We don't need special infrastructure (such as a halal butcher) to be able to settle in a new location. He lifted dietary restrictions in part so that we could go into all the world with greater ease.

Other than not eating food offered to idols, or general principles of stewarding our bodies well, we have only one dietary restriction given to the chruch in the epistles. It is not about the food or the body (which perish), but about people and their souls (whom He wills not to perish). Romans 14-15 teaches that we are to eat in a way that promotes love and unity, not in a way that causes others to stumble. "Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.

Godliness will produce a God- and others-centred balance in a world that is full of extremes. It helps to have godly, balanced people with eternal mindsets as our role models. Paul wrote to the Philippians:
"...keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Chr!st. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there...[who] will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body."
Our God-given food freedom, so unique among the religions of the world, opens doors to nourish others on the truth of faith. If Peter could eat ham with Gentile friends, we too can eat things with others that we would not choose to eat on our own. What God has cleansed, we must not call common. The way we make our everyday food decisions can have a big impact—for the Kingdom!

We are not menu advisers for the marriage supper of the Lamb(I have a feeling we'll be eating whatever is served)—our task is as messengers. We are to invite more guests, and we will eat, together, forever. "Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb."

"My food is to do the will of him
who sent me and to finish his work."

"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Chr!st in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
—Paul to the Romans

"'Don't you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn't go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.' (In saying this, J'esus declared all foods clean.) He went on: What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person's heart, that evil thoughts come...and defile a person.'"

"For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come."
Paul, to Timothy  

"The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of sense."

"Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence."
Paul to the Colossians

March 30, 2015

you look fat today

Not long ago, Eastern friends invited us for an informal supper on a weeknight. I had a small floral plate of theirs in my cupboard, which they'd forgotten at our place. Asia taught me not to return plates empty, so before our visit, I made a simple chocolate dessert to share. My husband tasted it at lunchtime and confirmed its deliciousness. I confidently packed both the sweets and the plate to take to our hosts.

That evening, we folded our limbs to fit into their small dining area, knees hitting table legs, and partook of oily eggplant and meat kebabs, served with rice and flat bread. The host had done the cooking because his wife was under the weather, and we showered him with praise for the tasty entree.

When it was time for dessert, my chocolate squares were placed on the table with the hostesses' other sweets. The man of the house sunk a thick finger into the corner of a square, and tasted my creation. Then, indicating his wife's berry cake, he declared to my husband, "Maybe once you have been married as long as I have, your wife will know how to make nice desserts like my wife makes, not this stuff." 

Inside, I grumbled, and was ready to leave.
Why do we hang out with people who insult me,
or waste a dessert that we like on people who don't like it?

A few days later, I was walking home in the evening with a fellow North American. We crossed a main bridge into the city centre and she asked, "What's for supper?" I should have known that it wasn't a good sign when my description of the food I had prepared (modifying it slightly to suit her allergies) was met with dead silence. As mealtime approached, she informed us that she had had a late lunch, and that she is the world's pickiest eater. 

For the next hour and a half, she sought to prove that true. She skillfully repositioned the food on her plate at least fifty times, and nibbled a grain of rice here or a piece of turkey there...but injested virtually nothing except bread, butter and coffee. Even the orange slices served as a side dish were nearly untouched. She didn't like the food, that was obvious. But she seemed pleased to spend the evening telling us about her background, interests, and accomplishments. Apparently learning to eat what she is served is not among those accomplishments.

Inside, I grumbled, and was ready for her to leave.
Why do we host self-absorbed picky eaters,
and why does she have to stay so late? 

It's one thing to write peppy posts about practicing hospitality, and it is quite another to live out hospitality with a forgiving and loving spirit. Our local Body is studying 1 Peter, and this week I came across Peter's admonition: "Be hospitable to one another without grumbling". The text was so obvious; I had to repent of grumbling about hosting or being hosted by people who aren't particularly easy to have around.  

Hospitality seems a strange topic for Peter to broach in an epistle that this focused on believers suffering with hope. Doesn't he have bigger fish to fry, like how to handle persecution or death threats? But in daily life, suffering comes most often in these little forms: bad manners, sarcastic remarks, and small insults that leave us with a bad taste in our mouths. Small irritations easily drive division between us and others, when we respond in the flesh. But when we respond in the Spirit, these mini-suffering moments train us to respond well to the big suffering moments. Through them we have the opportunity to advance spiritually in ways that we would never had developed had everyone been extraordinarily complimentary, accommodating and generous to us at all times.  

When we face circumstances tempt us to grumble, Peter shows us that we have the opportunity to look at the big picture: 
  • in the past, He patiently suffered for you, not returning insult for insult;
  • in the future, He's coming for you, and will settle you in your eternal home;
  • right now, "the end of all things is at hand"... (4:7).
The little things we grumble about, that keep us from a hospitable spirit, are temporary. Peter refers to our whole lives as "the time of your stay here", because this pilgrimage on earth shouldn't be wasted "revil[ing] in return" but instead, turning the other cheek.

The title of this post is a small insult, and direct quotation, from a friend in Asia. One day not long after we had met, she came by for a visit. After a short greeting, she announced, "You look fat today!" I was insulted, and I didn't know how to respond. But clearly her comment wasn't inappropriate in her culture, because she was a kind-hearted woman and didn't mean to hurt me. I had to overlook the slight, knowing she meant well, and perhaps throw out that horizontally-striped T-shirt. But I have never managed to throw her words from my memory!

These little slights are the stuff of life with one another, and especially of cross-cultural life with one another. Peter's first letter is full of lots of little gems about how to act toward "one another", likely because God knew that in suffering situations we often take out our frustrations on one another. The exact word pair "one another" is mentioned seven times in my English translation of 1 Peter:
  • "love one another fervently with a pure heart,"
  • "be of one mind, having compassion for one another;
    love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous...."
  • "above all things have fervent love for one another,
    for 'love will cover a multitude of sins.'"
  • "Be hospitable to one another without grumbling."
  • "minister [your gifts] to one another"
  • "be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility"
  • "Greet one another with...love."
If you're sensitive and selfish like I am, your response when slighted is often to subtly distance yourself from the people who insult you, not to be hospitable to them. Or to grumble or gossip about them, not to have compassion and fervent love for them. We need His admonition, "Be hospitable to one another without grumbling."

Lately I'm learning that when I look at a perceived insult with an attitude of humility, letting love tenderize the hurt, usually there is something practical to learn from the insult. Such as:
  • Central Asians aren't used to peanut butter and chocolate no-bake squares, and might not like them. To serve them better, try something using flavours and ingredients they are more accustomed to.
  • Don't try exotic wild rice salads on Americans you don't know very well; standard Sloppy Joes with a white bread option might be better.
  • Watch how much you eat, and keep reasonably fit.
Furthermore, usually an insult only smarts because we recognize a kernel of truth in the words, and we are too proud to admit it. If someone insults us in a way that is completely untrue, we get over it sooner, because we realize that it was just a product of their fantasy. But these situations made me more aware of true weaknesses of mine, which is never a pleasant experience. Now that I think about it,
  • I had thrown a simple dessert together, just to have something to take along. I could plan the time to make nicer desserts or desserts better suited to the recipients. I have a tendency to choose the lazy way out, especially if I think no one else will notice the difference.
  • I had made the mistake of trying a new dish on a new person, and it honestly didn't taste super good, even to us. I can complain about her picky eating, or I can grow in being a selfless hostess by feeding people things that are less unusual. Again, sometimes I'm lazy or selfish, just not wanting to make another trip to the grocery store, or wanting to make something I think is good, no matter if my guests will enjoy it.
  • I was "looking fat" because I had been over-eating (that's called gluttony, folks), and needed to lose some weight and exercise more regularly. It just hurt to have someone acknowledge it so openly, but I knew it was true.
I don't say these things to berate or be unreasonable with myself, but to say that God is mercifully using these remarks to remind me of sin He had already shown me, in my heart.

What could have been an insult that brings division, when it is...
covered in love ("love always hopes" that they didn't mean to hurt me),
received with humility (recognizing that I too am sinful), and
followed with no grumbling (recognizing that this slight is valuable to me, as a teachable moment)
....is a catalyst for growth in my life, because I'm able to extract the truth from careless words and even be thankful for the person who exposed that truth to me.

In the end, those unfiltered thoughts and brutally honest assessments are swifter teachers than ten friends who flatter me for years, and don't tell me where I could improve. In the end, hurts can often help. But even when I can't see any good or truth in hard words, "the end of all things is at hand", the command is still there: let's be hospitable to one another without grumbling.

March 23, 2015

online dating for believers

My husband and I met in 2013, and we were married in 2014. If you've followed my blog for a while, you've probably seen little bits of our story. There was the first post where I told you he existed, and thoughts on letting romance remain a bit mysterious and on that weird transition from being single to being married. More recently there was a post about how we planned a faith-based wedding.

My husband and I met online in 2013, and we were married in 2014. How else would a Canadian living in Asia meet an American living in Europe? We had never lived in the same countries, let alone the same cities. We had no mutual friends. Yet, we had so much in common.

We've gotten quite a few questions from others about dating online or dating long distance. Our parents were a bit surprised that we met online, but most people of our generation are more familiar with the concept. There are quite a few good articles online about the pros and cons of online dating as a believer, but lately a few people have asked me about our experience again, which made me want to distill a few things we learned into a blog post that I can share with them, and that will hopefully benefit a few others, too.

Some of this is subjective, some is His Truth. Sift, and see if you find something useful. Please note that if you are married to someone you met online, and didn't handle your relationship the way I describe below, please don't take this article as condemning of your story. Every story looks different!

I divided these thoughts (which my husband has looked over, too) into three sections:
  1. Don't try online dating unless...
  2. If you try online dating, do....
  3.  If you start talking to one person in particular regularly, do...
This article does not attempt to cover godly dating in general, though I think that the pursuit of purity, honesty, godly gender roles, and more can (and should) all be pursued in a relationship that starts online. This is a response to people who say things like "Do you have any advice you could give me about online dating?" Or "What kinds of questions should I ask the person I met online?"

Be warned, this whole article is rather pragmatic and might be boring! I'm not going to tell you to follow your heart, not even once! Here we go!

try online dating unless:

  1. ...you can do so "in faith" (Rom. 14:23). Don't do something that goes against your conscience or gets between you and God. Not everyone is meant to be married, and not everyone is meant to try online dating. Pray about it and be at peace about it.
  2. ...you're willing to tell others you are doing so. The whole online world can be very secretive. I've heard of people who have dated in a vacuum, with clandestine dates or trips to see each other, and then announced to their families that they've met the person they want to marry, without others having any opportunity to know their partner. This seems to happen especially as people get older, and are feeling a bit wary of letting people know that they have "yet another boyfriend" unless they're "sure." I'm not suggesting that everyone should know, but dating secretly is dangerous, no matter what age you are. Tell someone that you trust that you are making an online dating profile, and ask them to keep tabs on you.
    Another reason it is good to tell someone you're trying online dating is because it can be a big time-waster, and someone else can ask you if you're stewarding your time well. (My husband suggests just trying a two-week or one-month subscription at a time, then taking a break, rather than constantly using a dating website.)
  3. ...you could realistically see yourself getting married within a year or two. Romance is a journey toward a definite destination, of marriage. If you've just locked into a three-year job on-site Uzbekistan, it's probably not the best time to make an online dating profile and start extended conversations about your emotions with a girl living in Kansas. It's not fair to you or to that person.
  4. ...you are able to spend the time and money it takes to get to know someone. It's terribly practical to say this, but if you are up to your ears in debt and toying with dating a guy who lives even a $500 trip away, it might not be wise. In our case, cost was an extreme factormy future husband had to pay for a flight from Europe to Asia to meet me, and meeting each others' families before we got engaged and then getting to and from our wedding location were costly endeavors, too. But we had an early conversation about the distances and cost, and agreed that assuming all else went well, money would not be an obstacle to pursuing this relationship.
  5. ...you are willing to move, whether that's across town or to another country, if things get serious. Often online dating relationship are long distance or at least a little way apart. Don't start talking to someone in Texas or India if you couldn't see yourself potentially visiting and later moving there if the relationship got serious. Don't assume that they will move to where you are, until that is discussed. Also, bear in mind that if you are dating someone of a different nationality, things like paperwork can be rather complicated and expensive.
  6. ...you have never spent time with datable singles in real life. This is more just a personal opinion, but for example, I don't think it makes sense to start looking for dates online if you're 19 or 20. Try meeting people in more natural settings like at your local church, camp or city. To me, online dating seems like a great option for people who feel they've exhausted their natural, local connections and want to be married.

If you try online dating, do:

  1. ...try a genuinely Christian-run site first. The two that I've heard the most about are ChristianCafe (medium-sized) and MarryWell (quite small, but that's where we met!). Genuinely Christian-owned sites ask questions that are more relevant to your world (such as denomination, testimony, spiritual gifts) and are more likely to attract like-minds.
  2. ...describe yourself in a genuine way. This is cliché enough; we all know that the internet is the perfect place to pretend to be someone you're not. Don't be one of those people. In looking around dating websites, sometimes I have seen profiles of people I knew in person, and it has always been pleasant for me to see that they are true to who they are in real life.
  3. ...decide what your non-negotiables are in advance, within reason. 
    1. Don't even start conversations with people who are obviously nowhere near compatible with you. This is essential. Of course, the most important thing to have in common is that you both know and love the Lord, but there are a lot of secondary things that make a big difference. One of the benefits of online dating is seeing a synopsis of a person in written form before spending months investing emotionally in that person, only to find out that you disagree on some important topics. Often from reading a person's profile, you can learn what really is important to them, whether it is having 14 children and living on a ranch, attending a church that uses a particular Bible version, or living in China and teaching English. If you can't see yourself agreeing to their chosen lifestyle, move right along.
      Note: one friend commented to me that a lot of her thirty-something single friends are  marrying divorcees they've met online, but I did not consider even starting conversations with divorcees on dating websites because I still hold this view (however hard that is in our broken world).
    2. Also, remember that it's OK to have personal preferences that aren't particularly spiritual. God has made us with individual interests and tastes, and it's OK to admit that you're not attracted to certain types of people, however godly they may be. Ask God to show you if your preferences are not of Him.

If you start talking to one person in particular regularly, do:

  1. ...develop a genuine friendship before you dive into a romance. Figure out if this is someone you can genuinely enjoy and agree with as a person, sans fireworks. This can be especially difficult, when you meet online and you know that, obviously, you're both looking for someone to date. But when you don't know who a person really is, and you dive immediately into a romantic relationship, reality is you aren't seeing them in "normal mode".
    My husband was a great leader in developing a good friendship foundation to our relationship. We had a small talk about expectations near the beginning, but after that we spent most of the first three months writing or talking about theology, family, daily life and routines, history, travel, goals, and ministry. We memorized Scripture together and learned that we had tonnes in common. But we didn't talk about "us" much, as in, talk about our feelings for each other. Those three months gave us a real idea of what the other person's life and character was. After those months, my husband told me he wanted to come to Asia to meet me in person, "to see if there were any obstacles to pursing marriage." (At which point I asked him, "So, are we dating?" Ha ha!)
  2. ...hold the relationships loosely, especially before the first in-person meeting, and meet each other relatively soon. It happens often that people who thought they had something great going on, long distance, realize in person that it is not what they thought, and one or both have to end the relationship. (On the other hand, it is often the other way too!) If you can't meet particularly soon, because of cost or distance, video calls can make a big difference. But meeting in person is pretty essential. (And when you do meet, do so with others' knowledge and with others around - see #4).
  3. ...ask for and/or offer references, especially if there will be some delay before you can meet in person. In our case, after we had been communicating for a few months, we gave each other contact info for people who knew us in different settings (family, church, small group). The emails or calls were slightly awkward, but we were glad we did that, because those other voices rounded out what we were learning about each other directly. If the person you're talking to has nothing to hide, they shouldn't be afraid to give some references.
  4. ...involve other people as much as possible. The tendency with all dating is to spend time most of your time alone together instead of in groups, and with online or long distance dating it can be especially this way. For first meetings, it isn't wise that you would meet up with a stranger of the opposite sex without someone knowing what is going on or even being present, simply for safety reasons.
    But also throughout your relationship, keep others involved. My husband met with my good friend's parents when he was visiting in their area (before having met me), so that they could see what they thought of him. (They sent me five star reviews!) We did group Skypes with friends, roommates, or family, and we would stay at each others' friends' houses during our visits. My husband also emailed and Skyped with my parents on his own, and I did the same with his parents. My parents were passing through his parents' home state and they visited for a few days while we were still in Europe/Asia.
  5. ...do normal life things together, when you meet up. We did some sanding, painting and drilling, read the Good Book together, and made supper for friends various times. Invite friends to go along with you on outings.When you're long distance, you have lots of time to talk "one on one" over the phone; when you're together being with others is important.
  6. ...ask lots of questions. We used this book of questions, which asked a lot of questions that are often asked in premarital counselling. We each bought a copy and used it fairly frequently to push our conversation to important topics.

    Before things get too serious, ask about views and practices about things like: alcohol, debt/money,  homosexuality, and pornography/sexuality. Watch for red flags in their responses, and ask a wiser, older believer how to handle these conversations if you're not sure. Do not assume that just because you're both Christians, you don't need to ask about these topics.

    One thing that often happens on online dating sites is that believers of very different theological backgrounds meet. In our case, we had fairly similar backgrounds, but some of our very first questions for each other were of a theological nature, because the way we view God determines how we view everything else. We didn't do it argumentatively, but constructively, and it led to good conversation and good study for both of us. It is so essential to be able to agree on these faith foundations, so that you can be effective in life and ministry together, whether this means happily attending the same fellowship, or raising your children with consistent teaching and direction.

    Below are a few questions, just as an example:
    • How is a person saved from the punishment for their sin (justified)?
    • How does a person "stay saved"/do you believe in eternal security? Why or why not?
    • How can a person have assurance of salvation? (For example, how would you answer someone who wonders if they are truly saved?)
    • How does God speak to mankind today? What do you think about the "sign gifts" (tongues, miracles, healings, prophecy)? Do you believe they are still in use in the church today, and if so, do you practice any of them?
    • What are your persuasions about creation? 
    • What are your persuasions about end times?
    • Would you use any of these words to describe your views: Reformed? Covenant? Calvinist? Dispensational? Describe what you mean when you use those words.
    • What kinds of churches have you attended, and at which do you feel most at home?

One of the greatest powers of online dating is that it broadens the playing field, allowing people who desire marriage to connect with like-minded people that they would never have otherwise met. When done intentionally and prayerfully, online dating can lead to godly marriages, just like in-person dating! I hope the points above will be helpful as you think through the options that exist, if you desire godly marriage.

When I was in middle school, a teacher quoted us a paraphrase of this quotation, "Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction." That concept stuck with me, of watching for a man who was looking in the same direction as me, a man who loved the Lord and wanted to serve Him in a similar way.

My husband and I are more alike than most couples, likely, in our preferences, interests, lifestyle, family background, etc. (I could see this from the first time I read his profile, online—and actually, he was the only person I ever talked to through a dating site) and our dating relationship was rather smooth. In our first meeting and also in marriage we have had very few surprises about one another, and I think this is because we communicated honestly and often  beforehand, we had known the Lord for quite a few years, and we did not come from complicated backgrounds. We are not the proverbial "opposites attract" couple.

However, what gives us the most joy is loving and serving God together.
I could have found a man who enjoyed TexMex and Thai, travel and internationalism, books and study, just like me (and I did). But all this would have been empty if he didn't love the Lord with his heart, soul, mind and strength. And all this could have been tarnished if we hadn't followed wisdom principles in dating. We are thankful for this gift of grace—of investing this short life in eternity, with a like-minded soul—and thankful for online dating, the tool God used to make it happen.

March 18, 2015

sure, you can marry an unbeliever.

Sure, you can marry an unbeliever. You wouldn't be the first to do it, and you wouldn't be the last. You're over eighteen, and there's no law against it. Once you've made up your mind, no one can really stop you. So that's why I say,

"Sure, you can marry an unbeliever."

But first, stand in the lobby with me and study the deep creases in this man's face, the grooves his hand plows into his grey hair. Hear his low baritone say the phrase I've never forgotten: "If I could do it again, I'd marry a woman who loves the Lord." Watch the weight of his distant wife and wayward children burden his shoulders, like a grey boulder that threatens to break him.

Sure, you can marry an unbeliever.

But before you do, spend a day wearing yellow rubber gloves with the sixty-something lady who is cleaning houses to pay the rent. Rub your fingers through other people's dirt and remember that at the age when most people are thinking about retirement, she's signing divorce papers and supporting herself. She signs the papers unwillingly, though he made her life miserable for the last thirty years, because she still believes it's wrong to divorce the man to whom she made a covenant before God.

Sure, you can marry an unbeliever.

But prior to your signature on that contract, let's spend a week in the home of the man who "led his wife to the Lord" before marriage, to please the parents or the pastor. She submits to his way of running the home and joins him at chruch; she might even read a valuable Story or two to the kids each day. He would have no reason to leave her; she's a nice lady. But watch how the faith is his, not hers. Watch him spend his entire life with this tension: drawing near to God always feels like it draws him farther from his spouse, because his spouse is invested in the earth, and his soul is invested in the eternal.

Sure, you can marry an unbeliever.

But let's make one more stop, and have a hot cup of rooibos with my friend, who says that "spiritual topics are not a topic" between her and her husband. Attend the prayer meeting she hosts; note that her husband is holed away upstairs. Kneel with her as she prays desperately for her sons and daughter that they wouldn't follow their father's footsteps, though the first one has gone that way already. Hide her words in your heart, "I have wanted to leave him so many times." Ask what kept her in her difficult marriage to an unbeliever: "Every time I wanted to leave, the Word told me not to."

Sure, you can marry an unbeliever.

I tremble to think how much power God has bestowed on you, in giving you a will, that creature form of the Creator's omnipotence.

Did you hear the unfinished sentence in the Garden, one of the few in Scripture: "'Behold, the man...might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever'—" and hear the grief in the Creator's tone?

Did you hear His analysis of the events at Babel, "...now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them"? He is the first to acknowledge the power of a man made in God's image, the amazing power of choice.

God can override that creature-choice, for man's own protection, and often He does. After all, we are mini-kings, but He is the ultimate King. In the Garden, His response to man's waywardness was this: "So He drove the man out..." At Babel: "So the Lord scattered them abroad from there...and they stopped building the city." But He doesn't promise to override the principle of sowing and reaping, and the rebellious "I will..."'s in the Garden and at Babel still bore bitter fruit (paradise lost, families scattered) that we taste even today.

Sure, you can marry an unbeliever.

But I petition
and I plead
and I pray
that you would take that "I will"
and make it an "I won't".

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked;
for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.
For the one who sows to his own flesh
will from the flesh reap corruption,
but the one who sows to the Spirit
will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

If a house is divided against itself,
that house will not be able to stand.

Photos in this post are from here.

March 12, 2015

...do us part

Rain slid down the windshield into the black night. Yellow, red and white glow crept through the foggy glass and into the darkness of the vehicle. The traffic stopped and started, and we splashed through monsoon puddles, back to our flat. Roommate #1 and I had just dropped Roommate #2 and her boyfriend off at a hotel where they would be spending the night together. It wasn't something I did every day; it wasn't something I did without grief.

Roommate #2 and I both had long-distance boyfriends. Sometimes we'd exchange news about them over supper, and we met each others' boyfriends when they came to town. In the evenings we'd say good night and hole ourselves up in our rooms, each to talk to our guy, long distance.  

But I felt a little shy sometimes, about the marked difference in our relationships. I knew she would think us prudish. When my boyfriend came to visit, he stayed with my friends and we had a curfew. I didn't have any naughty pictures of him on my phone. On the weekend of our engagement party, while we were singing songs about J'esus and "spending time in groups", she was enjoying a long weekend at the beach with her boyfriend.  

I didn't question why we needed our standards to be so high; we were both convinced that purity would pay off. But it felt like we came from different relationships paradigms and I wondered: How do I explain that to her? Her boyfriend is a pleasant, smart, attractive guy. She's having fun. She's not getting pregnant. Her parents are OK with it. How could I build a case for the slow, intentional and seemingly boring path of wisdom?

I questioned Roommate #1, a few nights after the hotel drop-off, with an intensity uncharacteristic for me. The two of us were out for dinner, eating too many entrées because the server got our order wrong.

"Do you think it's right, what she's doing, sleeping with her boyfriend?"

She replied, "Well, each person can do what works for them..."

I didn't let her go. "I won't tell her what you're telling me. I just want to know, do you think it's morally wrong to have sex with someone you're not married to?"

When her answer came, it was solemn. "I do think it's wrong." She said it with a seriousness that knew she was probably condemning 90% of her coworkers, 90% of her friends, maybe even of herself, in the past. But she said it with a raw genuineness for which I admired her. Deep down, she knew there was something wrong with their behaviour.

She used to tease me, sometimes:
"Why don't you wear more sleeveless tops [in our Asian context]?"
"Your poor boyfriend; you should let him get farther with you."
"Next time you Skype with your boyfriend, you should show him that new bathrobe..."

But I knew that beneath her teasing, she appreciated something about my standards, something so far-removed from her typical expectation of a loose Westerner. Something set apart from the darkness she saw in her own supposedly conservative culture. Something that even her own conscience admitted was better.

Sometimes I think that the Father had me fall in love in Asia so that my female friends there could watch it happen. 

At my bridal shower, those same female friends gathered and I was asked to share our love story, and related Truths. I told funny stories of childhood crushes and we had a good laugh. But then I told them how that I knew that my fiancé's love was real, based on the Word—
“Love always trusts” - He tells me the truth, always. This doesn’t mean that we say everything we think, but we tell the truth.

“Love is patient” -  He was wise in the way that he approached our conversations. He made sure that we were friends for quite a while before making any romantic insinuations.

“Love does not boast” - He did not give me a list of things he was good at; I slowly learned those things about him. 
“Love is not easily angered” - He had never been short-tempered with me, and is not known for being angry with other people, either.
“Love protects” - He protected me by limiting physical affection before marriage, and even limited emotional affection by not saying “I love you” until he was ready to start pricing engagement rings.
 As I told these tests of true love, Roommate #2 was there, and again, I felt a bit small. Like, what could my story mean to her? 

I'm boring; she's having fun. 

The fun is over for her now; the boyfriend had his fill and is gone. I heard that when he broke up with her, she was so unwell that she fainted at work, and she had to travel home to spend time with her family while she recovered. By her own admission, she is still hurting, and she should be: she was his, and he was hers—but not fully.

The joy continues for me now; my husband is with me every morning. He is still trustworthy, still patient, still humble, still gentle, and still chivalrous. And, most notably, he's still here. Those boring character traits that I saw as his friend, girlfriend and fiancée continue to evidence themselves to me every day that I spend as his wife. As Ann Voskamp says, "The real romantics are the boring ones — they let another heart bore a hole deep into theirs."

Here it is: my case for the seemingly boring path of wisdom. Perhaps now my story would mean something to her.

There is a design blogger that I follow for her creative, bright imagery. Last year when she broke up with her boyfriend after six years together, she told all her followers about her grief. Recently a follow-up post talked about things she does to make herself feel OK about being home alone, like burning candles and cooking good meals for herself. It is obvious that the pain is still heavy, almost one year later.

The world can tell you all their
free love
free sex
stuff, and you can follow it, if you will.

Or you can submit your seen body to living by faith in what is unseen.

I stood in a mini Body Worlds exhibit in January and saw dead, unclothed bodies on display. The sight was pitiful. My mind immediately turned to the fragility of our lives. How can we allow bodies (which become as shriveled as crunchy autumn leaves) to orient our lives? How do we allow our bodies to convince our spirits that God doesn't know best? How can we give in to temporary pleasure over peaceful, lasting joy? We are but a vapor, "a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." When I saw the worthlessness of our bodies after 70 or 80 years, I thought: who are we to question His eternal Wisdom?

Singleness is hard in some ways, delightful in others. Marriage is a different kind of hard and delightful. But disobedience to divine design, well, even the world declares how terribly painful it is. Yes, they will sell you the gear and tell you you have the right—but when they are genuine, they'll tell you that they are deeply damaged by that cycle of bonding and breaking up. By living for fleeting pleasures. Just ask Roommate #2. Just ask Roommate #1. Just ask Bri.

I have a friend who has a new boyfriend, and I love romance, so I ask about him often. I can tell she genuinely likes him, but the stories she tells are awfully boring:

"I'm meeting his family."
"He's meeting my family."
"For Valentine's Day we read the B!ble over the phone together."
"We're going to go to a conference together."

What? No vacations to the Turkish seashore? No plans to move in together? No wild flings? Her stories are so boring that I'm happy for her—there is such peace in her words and her heart. I think she's got the real thing. Sparks will come and go, but wise, true love builds a solid foundation.

My husband's married friend told me something similar, "The beginning of our dating season was not very romantic. There was a lot of talk about theology and what kind of chruches we attended and if we could find common ground." But when I see how like-minded and joyful they are now, eight years later, it reminds me that it's better to be "boring" on the front end.

Sin always ends in sorrow, though it's temporarily masked as fun. We can shout our stories to this world graciously but boldly, because Wisdom will ultimately prevail. Even the stories the world lives ultimately point back to the truth of the Word. When their homes built on sand are being washed away, your home built on the rock will bear testimony to Wisdom. Be "boring"; be patient. 

I squeeze my husband's hand when he tells our Wednesday group that he is thankful for his wife. The group chuckles in unison; they've heard this before. I tease him, "Is that going to be your thankfulness item every week?" 

I hope so'til death do us part.

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord's coming.
See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop,
patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.
You too, be patient and stand firm,
because the Lord’s coming is near.
The Judge is standing at the door!
...As an example of patience in the face of suffering,
take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered.
You have heard of Job’s perseverance
and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
 Good understanding gives favor:
but the way of transgressors is hard.

Photos in this post are from here.

February 27, 2015


There was nothing relaxing about the award-winning Iranian film we watched last Friday. The opening scene showed a distressed couple squabbling before a divorce lawyer, and the film got increasingly intense, focusing on the complex relationships in an Iranian family. The cinematography was simple and stark, adding to the abrupt and honest feel of the film. About 30 minutes in, we were uptight and stressed. But we endured, because we knew that after another hour and a half, we'd have a resolution to the mysteries of the movie, and go to bed pleased.

Ninety minutes later, Persian script that looked a lot like credits started scrolling up the screen. 

Certainly this wasn't the end of the film, we thought. It was uncomfortably unfinished—

Which parent did the daughter choose to live with?
Did they remain in Iran or emigrate? 

What happened to the maid and her husband?
Did their creditors come for them?

Stunned, we watched until the credits finished playing, and a few logos flashed on the screen. It was true; the movie was over. A film's ending has never surprised me so much. In fact, we felt a bit abandoned: the movie raised more questions than it answered!

A few days later, I was still commenting to my husband:
That movie didn't tell us who stole the money from their apartment.

We ask only one thing of our entertainment: that it give us resolution. The story line can be complicated, but in the end, we demand completed thoughts, tied-together stories. They don't have to marry each other, they don't even have to survive, but we want to know what happens to them. And we do want a reasonably happy ending at least 70% of the time, thank-you-very-much. Hollywood movies feed what our human hearts idolize: perfect knowledge (and as often as possible, happy endings). 

We lie down on the sofa for two hours in the midst of our own complicated, unresolved life stories and we beg our media to give us an escape from real life, where the answers don't come in 120 minutes or less. And we have miniscule attention spans, so giving us a hint as to the ending at the 60-minute mark would be nice, too.

A Separation was intentionally truer to life than our usual Hollywood fare. We all have, and are, unfinished stories. We've all had relationships that seemed warm and then changed, with no explanation. Most of us remember a family that moved suddenly and made no contact again. Childhood friends come to mind once in a while, and we wonder what they're doing now. Singles wonder, will I ever marry, and if so, when? Marrieds wonder, can we have children, and when? Or worse, divorces and deaths leave questions in our minds

things that feel unfinished

because we don't understand them. Our hearts and minds are full of unfinished moments, like the nearly-empty jar of marmalade that taunts me from the fridge, or the lightweight conditioner bottle in the shower stall. I look at them and want to finish, clean, and recycle them—I want to have resolution.

Is it so wrong that we want resolution? Weren't we made for reconciliation, not for difficult relationships? Weren't we created with curious minds that want to know?  

Perhaps there's nothing wrong wishing to know, but demanding to know things that aren't revealed to us...that is wrong.

Man has never had a world where he knew all, even in the perfect Garden. We've only ever known what the Creator has revealed in His Word and His world. Man has always been expected to trust God with that which he cannot or must not know.

But in eternity future, we'll know...or will we? We often talk about chatting with Abraham, asking God our questions, or finally understanding why we went through some fiery trial. Songs like the famous Thank You have portrayed Heaven as a place where we'll find people we witnessed to or be thanked by our sponsor children. Maybe we assume that in Heaven we'll understand everything: those relationships that hurt, those questions that kept us awake, and those tragedies that almost broke us. But I wonder if we will. Because omniscience belongs only and forever to Him.

Yes, eternity vows to make clear so many things that were dim in this life. But as humans, we tend to think of a Heaven that pleases us. When we reach that day, what our eyes will be truly open to is not how great we were (by enduring some trial, or sharing truth with a stranger), but how great He is. Our eyes will be opened to His eternal reality, His omniscience. We will worship He who did indeed work all things together for good. But our focus will be less on those things, and more on the One who did those things. I don't know if we'll be asking Him: why handicaps, God? Why health problems, God? Why famine, God? Or if when we see Him, those questions will flee, and we'll do like most any in recorded history, and fall on our faces....

We'll see that He has indeed meted out justice on the earth, His righteous vengeance at last. When our own works are assessed, we'll tremble in wonder that an omniscient God could pass over us. We'll realize that He is altogether trustworthy after all, in every detail.

And all those

things that feel unfinished

will be finished,
because He finished;
It is finished.


"The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law." 

“Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
Now prepare yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer Me.
'Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!'"
—God to Job

"Then Job answered the Lord and said...
"You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know...
 Therefore I abhor myself,
And repent in dust and ashes.'”
 —Job to God

"It is finished."


"It is finished, It is done
To the world salvation comes
Hallelujah, We're alive!
Hell was silenced when you cried,
'It is finished', 'It is finished'

"...I am contented not to know,
Since Thou dost know the way." 
Then I saw 'a new heaven and a new earth,' for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away... And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.' He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!'
He said to me: 'It is done.
I am the Alpha and the Omega, 
the Beginning and the End. 

February 19, 2015

bring them in

Whether as a single or married woman, I've tried to make a habit of having people into my home regularly for tea, a snack, or a meal. There have been seasons where I've not been able to open my home much (such as when I was working as manager and putting in overtime), seasons of relearning what hospitality looks like (such as in Asia, learning what's culturally appropriate) and my current season, when we can and do have guests in our home frequently. There have been seasons when I've needed the hospitality of others, and seasons where others have needed mine. Hospitality has been a powerful force for good in my life, whether I've been the giver or receiver.

There are many reasons why I value hospitality, but one of the chief is that is that hospitality is so very Chr!stian. Hospitality is not optional for follower of the Son, it is to be part of our practice. The fact that an elder must be hospitable to qualify for eldership shows how important it is to God. There's nothing wrong with restaurants or hotels, but Chr!stian hospitality is much more than the arrangement of forks and flavoursit is the impacting of souls.

Most of the people who have impacted me long-term are people who have allowed me to spend significant time in their homes. In sermons or lectures we find words of truth, but in hospitality we find truth in action. If in the text we find the raw materials of truth, when we are served and loved in a Chr!stian home, we see what to build from those raw materials. Sometimes we might feel that the people of true impact are the ones with the teaching ministries or the authors of many books—and we could all name speakers or authors who have fed us spiritual meat, and their work is vital. But when I think of my life, everyday God-loving people who've shared their homes, food, and lives with me have had at least as much, if not more, impact on me. They put flesh and blood onto truth and show me what it looks like in their conversations and life standards.

The Master had crowds thronging around Him constantly; he taught multitudes on dusty hills and from the bow of a boat to throngs. But still we often find Him focusing His attention on individuals. We remember them, such as: the woman with a debilitating flow of blood, Mary who broke spikenard over His feet, Nicodemus at night, the Samaritan woman at the well, Peter who betrayed him, Martha and her busy body, Zaccheus and his radical turnaround. The Master knew that there's something about one-on-one impact that cannot be replicated en masse. The physical size of our living spaces, the wiggle room in our budgets, the commitments on our schedules...these things limit our in-home hospitality to usually be a ministry to a few individuals at a time. But our Example shows us that this one-on-one ministry is essential.

We know that hospitality (especially to like-minded people, and to strangers) is commanded to us, it's non-optional. There's nothing wrong with taking friends out to eat as an act of hospitality, rather than having them in our homes. This can be a great stop-gap when we are short on time and still want fellowship, and done with intentionality it can be highly effective. But today I want to share ten reasons why I prefer to invite people to eat in rather than out. They're both big and small reasons. Some just personal preferences; take them or leave them.

We invite people in rather than taking them out because....

  1. It's almost always healthier. I get to control how the food is prepared and use reasonable amounts of salt, fat, etc. I'm far less likely to get food poisoning. And if I do find a hair in my soup, at least it's my own.
  2. It's better stewardship of our money and possessions. Here in Europe, eating out is particularly expensive, unless you want a cheap, oily Turkish wrap, so I'm reminded of this all over again. For fifteen euros, my husband and I could eat one greasy pizza out, or feed ourselves and at least two other friends in. Occasionally we choose to spend a bit more money rather than the time it takes to eat in, but in this season we usually eat in with our friends. It is good stewardship of the space God has given to us, too. Rent or mortgage is usually one of everyone's biggest monthly expenses. Hospitality is a way to make that money an investment into eternity, too. Whether or not I have guests, I would want to have a heated, furnished home, and when I share that with guests, it is time and money doubly invested, for us and for them.
  3. It puts me (now us) in a position to control the atmosphere. This is one of my favourite reasons to eat in. Restaurants are at best full of distractions. Who hasn't been interrupted by annoying music, a sleazy TV show playing nearby, an immodest or crass server with more ice water, or someone else's crazy child at a restaurant? In our homes we can virtually eliminate these kinds of distractions and create a peaceful, God-honouring environment conducive to good conversation. Which leads me to my next reason....
  4. It makes my home a teaching platform. My home teaches others about what I value—and hopefully, about what God values. Usually my home is full of words and pictures that are meaningful to me. But other things speak, too, like how my husband and I relate to each other, how neat our home is, the kinds of foods we serve...and so many other things. I remember a friend sitting in my home and telling his friend that "This computer screen is the only screen you will find in this house! Julie doesn't have a TV!" I had to laugh at his gusto, speaking as if my home was a real oddity. But he and his friend were both learning about my values by seeing my house. Obviously, we can teach with words, too, as we have opportunity to guide the conversation and set the tone. Sometimes my husband pulls out the Good Book and we read with our guests, or sometimes we just pursue edifying conversation or prayer together. Hospitality teaches something; make that something worthwhile.

  5. It reminds everyone that eating is a community affair. Eating is something we do together. This might be a minor point, but in a restaurant we (usually) order what we want individually and have our own personal experience. At home, we eat what we are served and share the same eating experience. Homemade meals remind us, in our ultra-customized society, that the universe does not exist simply to please us individually; we are made to contribute to community.
  6. It allows people to get to know the real me. My home puts me in a place of vulnerability, because it is a personal space. Sometimes I'm afraid my home is too grand for the guests I'm inviting. Other times I've felt my home is far too simple, like when I invite someone wealthy to visit. We know our guests may make value judgements after seeing us in our home. But it's a good reality check, to remind me to be my real selfmy sincerity is much more important than my status, or lack thereof.
  7. It encourages me to keep my home clean. I'm trying to be better about cleaning consistently, whether or not guests are coming through. But if it hasn't gotten done, and nothing makes me scramble for the vacuum or the mop like knowing that someone else will be seeing our space. (OK, who are we kidding, I only mop if I must. But the vacuum, that I use quite frequently).
  8. It's an outlet for my creativity. Feeding people in my home is a perfect place to express creativity. I like to keep an arsenal of colourful napkins, placemats and banners on hand. And I admit it, I was the one who had a Reformation Day party on October 31, complete with German food, the Luther movie and Catholic candles (with monks on them) burning. I do like theme parties and coordinating decorations....and, not surprisingly, I'm all about cooking foods from around the world.

  9. It's interesting and it expands my world without even leaving home. Since being married, we've had guests from Syria, India, China, Pakistan, Germany, Ukraine.... Their stories are each unique and teach us about the world. I have a cousin who regularly hosts couchsurfers from around the world. Their children learn to have mature conversation with adults, and "travel" by eating the guests' food and hearing their stories. (You might be interested to check out this hospitality network for people who need a place to stay, or have a place to share).
  10. It encourages others to do the same. Lastly, hospitality is best taught by example. The easiest way to learn it (and I still have so much to learn) is by watching others who do it well and sincerely. I've found that hospitality is a bit contagious, if I invite people over, they often do the same in return; sometimes it just takes one person to get the ball rolling.
What you found above is my rough philosophy of hospitality, and why I want to purposefully invite people into our home. One in every three people is lonely, or so I've been told. What better way to seek out that lonely person (whether they look lonely or not) by inviting someone to eat or drink at home with you? We serve a Father who "puts the lonely in families" and human hospitality pictures His heart that notices individuals and brings them into fellowship and community. 

Again, there's no reason hospitality has to be limited to your home. Last week a lady who lives outside our city treated me to breakfast at a restaurant not far from my home. This was more convenient for me than having to figure out how to get to her home. Her invitation, her interest in me personally, her lack of rush, her generosity in paying the tab: all these things spoke hospitality to me, someone who's been facing some loneliness of her own. Next weekend, we're invited to her home, and I know that that visit will be even more insightful into who she and her family are.

At home we have been discussing what living by faith looks like, and how faith challenges us to stretch ourselves with whom we invite into our home. Sometimes we invite people who are pleasant and mannerly, who bring a hostess gift and good conversation. But other times we're trying to invite that person who follows different dietary laws and prays five times a day. Or someone who makes us a little uncomfortable because of our different worldviews. Or the guy with a sour attitude (who secretly liked that we invited him, I think). Currently I'm working on getting up the courage to invite the neighbour over for tea. (Does it feel weirder that we share a wall? Maybe). Faith serves the people of God, but it doesn't just invite "like minds" to its table. It invites differently-oriented guests with a purpose of influencing more than being influenced. Rosaria Butterfield's story is just one beautiful example of a woman who came to faith because others took a step of faith in offering gracious, patient hospitality.

As I was finishing this post, I got a call from a lady who plans to eat here tonight. We don't know much about her, except that she's from Ghana, she does cleaning jobs, she seems lonely and she's happy to talk to English speakers. A mutual friend told us that she currently lives with the fear that B0ko Haram will soon come wreak chaos near her relatives' homes in Africa. My husband can't go there and stop the onslaught, and I can't go back and change her difficult past. But we're trying something small, believing that love shown over chicken stew in a godly home (whether you're single or married) is so very Chr!stian and makes a difference. So whenever we can, let's bring others in.  It doesn't really matter how elaborate or simple the meal. Our love and homes shout our story: "how great is the love that the Father has lavished upon us!"

"He escorts me to the banquet hall;
it's obvious how much he loves me."
Shulamith (Song of Solmon 2:4 NLT)

"Share with the Lord's people who are in need.
Practice hospitality."